9:52AM Tuesday, March 8, 1983
Kane walked through the maze of buildings on campus. He turned a corner and saw the concrete monstrosity where his class was held.
“Kane Kulpa, how are you this morning?”
Kane turned to see Professor Williams bundled in a long, black coat with a fur lined hood, her attaché slung over a shoulder.
Kane nodded. “Professor.”
Williams stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and pulled the hood down from around her ears. Kane faced her.
“Why don’t you speak in class?”
“I never have much to say.”
“I don’t believe that, and I think you’re smart enough to be able to provide me with a better answer.”
Kane looked away and considered the consequences of his answering or not answering the question. He figured she’d take it personally if he didn’t give an honest answer, but if he did answer, he needed to keep it from being personal. Kane said, “I don’t like giving my opinion.”
“Can’t you say what you think without identifying with it?”
“I’m not sure that’s what’s going on in the class.”
“I don’t understand what you mean. I feel as though you have a lot to offer, and I’d like you to speak up more in class. I believe the other students would benefit from your insight.”
“How do they feel about it?”
Williams met Kane’s gaze and held it. “Are you truly such a cold man? We’re examining literature, and I think it’s something you care about. You’re always in class and always prepared. You turn in well written essays and weekly assignments, and you did quite well on the first exam. I don’t understand why you don’t participate in class discussion.”
“Will my participation affect my grade?”
“Perhaps a little, but your attendance and the fact that you’re prepared should offset your indifference. Your grade, however, isn’t the point.”
Kane raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure it’s not?”
The wind picked up, and Williams shivered. She ran a hand through her salt and pepper hair. “I’m talking about what you can gain from engaging the class. You would learn more, and you would learn to discuss issues with your peers.”
“You think that’s funny?”
Fuck it, Kane thought. “I think you want me to participate in the class because you see the classroom as a reflection of yourself. What would I get out of such engagement? Most days, maybe five of the twenty-nine other students have read the material. They share their opinions and beliefs on whatever you’ve chosen to discuss that day. They figure out what you think about the assigned reading, and they repeat your opinions on their essays and exams. I know exactly what I would get out of engaging that bullshit. I’d learn how to get along. And you’re right, I do care about literature and ideas. I just don’t give a fuck about being a part of the group. I don’t see how I’ll benefit by being friendly with dipshits who think listening to Culture Club while playing Atari passes for doing philosophy.”
“If you don’t learn how to get along with your peers, you’ll struggle to find a job. You’ll struggle to fit in wherever you go. Learning how to interact with people is more important than you realize. You’re not as much of a loner as you pretend to be.”
Kane wished he’d gotten some sleep. If he had, he might’ve been able to sidestep the whole conversation. “I don’t pretend to be anything. Why can’t I react honestly and genuinely? Why do I need to participate in the realty of others? Why do I need to submit to the system you use to justify your place in society?”
Professor Williams drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “That’s just how it works. You’ll learn, sooner or later, that we all need to submit to society’s systems.”
Williams looked away.
Kane said, “Do you wish you hadn’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you wish you’d held out a little longer for peace, love, and understanding?”
“You think those values foolish, don’t you?”
Kane didn’t think she’d actually asked a question, so he didn’t respond.
Williams said, “I’ll respect your preference. If you don’t want to speak in class, I won’t call on you again, and I won’t count it against you. If you continue to show up to class prepared, I’ll give you full credit for class participation.”
Kane nodded. “Thank you.”
“I only ask you think it over. Think about the choices you’re making. Think about how you interact with your peers and colleagues. Learn to get along with them. I don’t want you to grow up to be a lonely man.”
“You’re a good man, Kane. Learn how to contribute without making it about yourself.”